“Anyway,” my Dad continued. “Like your mother said, on our first date we went downtown to the Alamo to see a movie. I remember the theater was air-conditioned. Boy! That felt good!
“We saw Samson and Delilah. Starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr. A huge Technicolor spectacle. What a stinker!”
My Dad knew a lot about movies and as with most things, he wasn’t afraid to express his opinion about them to me. I liked talking to my Dad about movies. He had been in the movie business, working as an animator for Walt Disney. A fact of which I was very proud. I had the deepest respect for his knowledge about art and film, subjects I also held very dear. He knew that I respected him for his knowledge, too, because it was the one subject where we were the most relaxed, or normal, together. It was the one place where we could meet with respect, as equals.
Not as father who must be obeyed and rebellious teenaged disobeying son.
He smiled and said, “You know what Groucho Marx said about that picture, don’t you?”
“No,” I answered. “What’d he say?”
“He said he wouldn't work in a picture where the man’s breasts are bigger than the woman’s.”
I was scandalized to hear the word breasts from my father’s mouth! (I’m a little surprised at you too, Groucho, wherever you are, if what Dad said was true.) Dad didn’t usually find risqué humor acceptable at any time.
It occurred to me that maybe Dad was lonely in New Zealand, trapped in his darkened studio drawing for countless hours day and night. Animation is a cruel vocation in some ways, not the least of which are the truly monstrous number of hours it takes to make even the shortest film. You have to be insane to do it. But however tempted I am, this isn’t about my Dad’s sanity or the lack of. It’s about me as a boy of fifteen seeing my Dad more clearly as a human being. Me understanding that my father might be lonely sometimes, too, in our newly adopted country.
Like I was.
“Yeah, Samson and Delilah,” said Dad dismissively. “It was a real stinker. Your Mom liked it though. We had a good time, although she was worried about her dress, which had got some chocolate on it.”
As Mom had done, Dad paused for a minute to remember their first date. The cup on his finger kept twirling. Standing in the half-light, Dad had a half-smile on his face and a faraway look in his eye.
“I borrowed a car and we parked up at Sunset Point and kissed until I had to take her home to her mother.”
“You kissed Mom on the first date?” I was incredulous again. Growing mustaches, smoking cigarettes, kissing on the first date. What next from Dad, thought I, Pompeiian tales from a night of debauchery at the Playboy Mansion?
“No,” he said. “That was later, much later, with the car. I was just reminiscing.”
“Dad?” I asked, “Was it difficult to talk to Mom? I mean, at first.”
“Well, let me see. No. I don’t think so, but we’d known each other for some time before, don’t forget.”
“Since you were kids?”
“No. I was from the other side of the tracks. Since we were about your age, I suppose, maybe a little older.”
He changed the subject, but kept to the same quiet manner and tone of voice.
“What movie are you going to see?” he asked. “Have you got enough money? Here, let me give you a few dollars.” He reached into his pocket and took out his wallet.
“You’re up to date with your school work, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Yeah, all caught up,” I said. I took the couple of dollars and stuffed them in my pocket. “Thanks, Dad.”
“That’s okay. Your grades have been better and you’ve settled down a bit. You’ve earned it. Not that I’m paying for you to get good grades, mind. This isn’t a bribe, no sir, but a gift.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Let’s say from one movie lover to another.” He thought for another minute, before adding, “We expect someone with your talents to do well in school without being bribed, right?”
“Okay,” he confirmed in a quiet voice.
He came up and gently put his hand on my shoulder. “You know your Dad can’t be an ogre all the time,” he said. “There should be time for fun, too.”
I lowered my head, looking at the floor, feeling a little ashamed. “Thanks, Dad,” I said.
Mom returned at this point and told me it was time I was doing my homework, wasn’t it? I lifted my head and said with a big smile yes, ma’am, I’d better get it done because I was going to the movies on Friday night with Ethne, thanks to you and Dad!
“Like your Dad says, honey,” she said as she sidled up next to him and put her arm around his waist, “Sometimes there should be time for a little fun.” She gave my Dad a funny, private look.
He answered it with an inquisitive raising of his eyebrows and a big, cheesy smile.
“Off with you now, son!” said my Dad with enthusiasm, smiling like a Cheshire Cat. “Better hit those books! Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Mom. Goodnight, Dad.” I left the kitchen.
As the door shut behind me, I heard my mother giggle.